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Take a look at what's going on in the world of property management with Watson's news and blog feed

Leeds Waterfront Festival 2016

Watson are proud to sponsor and support this years' Leeds Waterfront Festival.  As the managers of a number of landmark waterfront developments in Leeds city centre, some of which are integral to the event, we are delighted wholeheartedly support this celebration of the city's rich history and very special places to live and work.  The event starts Friday 24th June and features a wide range of special events and performances over the weekend of the 25th and 26th June. If your in the area pop along and join in the fun!

 

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Nick's BlogSpot #4

Welcome to my latest blog – this month I am taking a look at two recent cases from the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) with regard to the recoverability of legal costs as part of a service charge, and considering how these may impact upon a party’s ability to recover debt recovery costs through such means.

Before looking at these two cases, it is worth stating that it will usually be desirable to be able to recover the costs of debt recovery from the defaulting party, and ideally this may be achieved through an indemnity clause within the lease. It is perhaps more common however, especially when dealing with an older lease, to have to rely upon a Section 146 clause whereby costs may be recovered when incurred in contemplation of, or incidental to, Section 146 proceedings. The scope of Section 146 clauses has arguably been reduced however, following the Upper Tribunal’s decision in the case of Barrett v Robinson in 2014, and as a result it may now be necessary for the costs of debt recovery to be recovered from all leaseholders as part of the service charge if they cannot instead be fully recovered from those who have defaulted on their payments originally.

Moving on, the first case to look at is that of Geyfords Ltd v O’Sullivan & Others, determined by the Upper Tribunal in December 2015 and which concerned legal costs in the sum of £54,000 which the landlord had sought to recover as part of the service charge. These legal costs had been incurred by the landlord in two sets of proceedings, initially in the County Court for the recovery of service charge arrears and then subsequently in the LVT in responding to an application brought collectively by the leaseholders at the development. In the Upper Tribunal, with the FtT having determined originally in favour of the leaseholders, the landlord argued that the legal costs were recoverable as service charges as they were incurred “… in and about the … proper and convenient management and running of the Development”, and those who are familiar with leases will no doubt recognise this as a relatively standard ‘sweeper clause’. The Upper Tribunal however disagreed with the landlord, and instead found that this clause was not sufficient to demonstrate that the legal costs could be recovered as part of the service charge; the landlord’s appeal was dismissed.

It is evident from the Upper Tribunal’s decision that clearer reference to legal costs would be required within the lease in order to permit the landlord to recover such through the service charge, however this does perhaps raise a question of whether the same decision would have been reached had the landlord instead been a leaseholder-run management company – indeed this is a question which leads on to the second case to be looked at.

This is the case of Fairbairn v Etal Court Maintenance Ltd, determined by the Upper Tribunal in November 2015 and dealing with costs, including legal costs, incurred by the landlord in responding to proceedings brought by a leaseholder to enforce a repairing obligation. The landlord in this case was a leaseholder-run company with the sole purpose of managing the development, and Counsel sought to rely upon this point of the landlord’s status in support of the argument that the costs were recoverable as service charge having been incurred “… for the proper management administration and maintenance of the block …”. The Upper Tribunal disagreed, finding that the status of the landlord did not justify a departure from the natural meaning of the lease provisions and determining that the landlord’s costs could not be recovered as service charge for the primary reason that they were incurred due to a breach of the landlord’s own obligations to repair. However, the Upper Tribunal did comment that the provision within the lease which formed the landlord’s argument was, in principle, wide enough to cover the costs of legal advice and litigation.

This second case would appear therefore to answer the question raised previously, with the answer being fairly resounding in saying that the status of a landlord should not alter what is the clear intention of a particular lease. All is not necessarily lost on this point however, and solace may be found for leaseholder-run management companies that have unfavourable sweeper clauses in the Upper Tribunal’s decision in Solarbeta Management Company Ltd v Akindele from 2014, although whether this decision may be relied upon for the recovery of legal costs is unclear. What is apparent from this second case however is that it may well be possible to rely upon a sweeper clause within a lease in order to recover debt recovery and legal costs through the service charge, although when deciding if this is possible then consideration should be given to what a reasonable person with the relevant background knowledge would consider that clause to mean.

That’s the end of my blog for this month and I hope that you have found it interesting – I have certainly enjoyed writing it. As always, should you have any comments with regard to what has been discussed, or if you just want to get in touch, then please feel free to e-mail me at nwarren@watsonpm.co.uk.

Nick

151116_Nick_BW_Low_Res.jpgNick Warren is an Associate Director at Watson and is responsible for our industry leading Credit Control department. He has a keen interest in some of the more technical elements of property management, as well as keeping up to date with the relevant case law and legislation which affects the industry. He often represents clients in matters before the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) as required, and is regularly commended for his performance in this arena. Nick is an Associate of the IRPM, and is also a regular attendee at ARMA and IRPM events throughout the country.

Meet the MD

Watson are pleased to announce the appointment of Anthony Bennett as the company's Managing Director, effective from February 2016.  Anthony has worked for Watson since the year 2000 and has worked within, and indeed headed up, most departments within the company.  His previous banking career alongside the experience gained within his family's industrial manufacturing business has allowed him to instigate some of the most innovative property management solutions seen in the sector over past years.

His rare combination of practical and financial skills, alongside hands-on experience, affords him an in-depth understanding of every element of our service delivery and this made him the natural choice to succeed Jean Bramhill, the company's previous MD for three decades, who has stepped-away into a Deputy-Chair role on the board of Directors until her forthcoming retirement.  The extensive cross-over of Anthony and Jean's role ensures that the company remains completely stable during the transition and the great service that Watson's customers have come to enjoy remains consistent throughout.

So many congratulations to Anthony; here's to the future and many more years of Watson leading the field of residential managing agents.  Of course we must offer thanks for Jeans' momentous contribution to the company over the last 30+ years; to say a brief thank you to her is simply not enough.  We will look-back at some of the milestones of her time heading-up Watson as her retirement approaches, however that is a little way off yet.

Nick's BlogSpot #3

Welcome to my latest blog entry, the first of 2016 – this month I will take a look back at the recent floods to hit the North of England and how these have impacted upon ourselves and our leaseholders, as well as touching upon the controversial subject that is Flood Re which remains due to ‘go live’ from April 2016.

You would be hard-pushed to find anyone who had not seen the media coverage of the flooding following the recent storms, most noticeably that which occurred either side of the Pennines between Christmas and New Year. For ourselves, we manage a number of developments that are situated alongside the River Aire in Leeds as well as both the River Ouse and the River Foss in York, and unfortunately many of these were significantly affected by the flooding. However, due to the location of these developments we as a managing agent are constantly aware that flooding is a risk for which we need to be prepared, and our preparation this time around was undoubtedly aided by the contingency planning which we undertook following previous large-scale flooding in 2012. Interestingly, it was at last year’s ARMA conference that we heard from Maggie Cowing from the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters on how to cope with managing disasters at developments under management, and Maggie could not have been more been more enthusiastic in extolling the virtues of having good contingency plans in place.

There is an issue however that regardless of how good your contingency plan is, if you don’t have the right people to put it into place, then your chances of dealing with that disaster successfully will be slim. There was also a further obstacle on this occasion, with the timing of the flooding being just after Christmas when traditionally people will take annual leave in order to spend the festive period with their family and friends. At Watson we are no different, however we are also mindful that we operate within a service industry that operates 24/7, 365 days a year, and part of our contingency planning is therefore to ensure that our staffing levels will allow us to respond to any issues or disasters in exactly the way that our leaseholders would want us to. As I say however, a contingency plan is only as good as the people who put it into place when required, and we are extremely proud as a company therefore to have a group of staff who reacted to the flooding with a great amount of commitment and professionalism to ensure that the service we provide did not suffer.

Moving on, of course following the clean-up comes the task of counting the cost of the damage caused by the floods, and it was interesting to hear the Association of British Insurers estimate that the total bill for insurance claims was likely to be in the region of £1.3 billion – approximately £50,000 per claim. However, this presumably does not account for those who have been affected by the floods but who don’t claim on their insurance, either because they do not want their premium to increase or because the level of the excess that they would have to pay would negate making a claim. This is a point which the government are seeking to address, at least in part, through Flood Re, although this is not without its controversies.

The purpose of Flood Re is to promote affordable flood insurance, and over the 25 years that it will be in place it aims to help around 350,000 households. However, Flood Re will not be of assistance to everyone, and it is of particular relevance to ourselves and our leaseholders when you consider that the majority of leasehold properties stand to be excluded from the new regulations – in fact, it is only those leasehold properties which are owner-occupied and of three units or less which will be included. There would also appear to be an absence of a justifiable explanation as to why so many leasehold properties are being excluded, other than that their insurance policies are classed as commercial but yet other ‘commercial’ policies such as those in place for Commonhold properties are still included within the regulations. Industry bodies such as ARMA and the British Property Federation have been vocal in their support for the inclusion of leasehold as a whole within Flood Re, although with the new regulations due to come into force from April 2016 and with no clear means of changing their scope after this date, it is concerning that the 800,000 leasehold properties in the UK that are at risk of flooding may struggle to find affordable flood insurance.

That’s the end of my blog for this month, and I apologise that I couldn’t end it on more of a positive note – thanks for reading and I hope that you found it interesting. As always, should you have any comments with regard to what has been discussed, or if you just want to get in touch, then please feel free to e-mail me at nwarren@watsonpm.co.uk.

Nick

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151116_Nick_BW_Low_Res.jpgNick Warren is an Associate Director at Watson and is responsible for our industry leading Credit Control department. He has a keen interest in some of the more technical elements of property management, as well as keeping up to date with the relevant case law and legislation which affects the industry. He often represents clients in matters before the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) as required, and is regularly commended for his performance in this arena. Nick is an Associate of the IRPM, and is also a regular attendee at ARMA and IRPM events throughout the country.

Nick's BlogSpot #2

Welcome to the latest instalment of my monthly blog – this month, as we approach the first anniversary since ARMA’s ARMA-Q accreditation went live, I will look back over the past 12 months and how being ARMA-Q accredited has worked for us.

Going back to the middle of 2014, we were delighted to become one of the first managing agents in the country to be recognised as a provider of high quality residential property management services when we were awarded ARMA-Q accreditation. This accreditation was introduced by ARMA due to a lack of regulation within the leasehold management sector which had resulted in inconsistencies in service levels within the industry and had dented consumer confidence in managing agents, and by being recognised with ARMA-Q we had demonstrated that the service we provided met a set of prescribed standards specific to managing agents and aimed at ensuring a high quality of service across the industry. When the accreditation subsequently went live on 1st January 2015, we were then able to go to our clients and leaseholders and say that we were part of an exclusive collective of managing agents and had proven that we provided a high standard of property management.

Clearly part of ARMA’s motivation behind ARMA-Q is to improve standards within the leasehold management sector for the benefit of consumers, however there is also a desire to enable accredited managing agents such as ourselves to set us apart from other non-accredited agents when speaking with clients and tendering for new business. In order for this to be achieved it is important that these clients have an awareness of ARMA-Q and what it stands for, and over the course of the last 12 months we have made great efforts in seeking to generate this awareness where possible. As an example, since being recognised with the accreditation we have distributed over 5,000 copies of the ARMA-Q Consumer Guide amongst our clients and leaseholders, and we have also been able to promote ARMA-Q and increase awareness of the accreditation due to being the recipients of the ARMA-Q Award in 2014. However, as we approach the first anniversary of the accreditation it is clear that further efforts are required in order to generate the awareness and interest amongst clients and leaseholders that should ensure the success of the ARMA-Q nationally.

One point which I have discussed over the past 12 months with a number of people is who should be responsible for the promotion of ARMA-Q and ensuring that a high level of awareness is generated throughout the leasehold management sector, and the conclusion that has been reached on each occasion is that this responsibility should not lie with just one party. I have mentioned above just some of the efforts that we have made to generate awareness of the accreditation, and we were pleased to learn in late October of ARMA’s plan to place adverts in the national press with a view to generating increased awareness of both the association and also ARMA-Q accreditation. These adverts are part of ARMA’s wider marketing campaign which also includes an online microsite allowing leaseholders to easily find an ARMA member such as ourselves, as well as marketing videos for managing agents to use on their website or in presentations, and as we look forward to the New Year I am hopeful that further elements of this campaign will be introduced to increase awareness levels nationally and which will also complement the efforts made by managing agents such as ourselves to do likewise. Of course time will tell just how successful these efforts have been, however if we are to reap the rewards for what we ourselves have done then I think we should be very positive about 2016.

That concludes my blog for this month – many thanks for taking the time to read it, I hope that you enjoyed it and found it of interest. If you have any comments or feedback then I would love to hear from you, or even if you just want to get in contact then please feel free to e-mail me at nwarren@watsonpm.co.uk. Otherwise, on behalf of all at Watson, I will simply wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

Nick

151116_Nick_BW_Low_Res.jpgNick Warren is an Associate Director at Watson and is responsible for our industry leading Credit Control department. He has a keen interest in some of the more technical elements of property management, as well as keeping up to date with the relevant case law and legislation which affects the industry. He often represents clients in matters before the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) as required, and is regularly commended for his performance in this arena. Nick is an Associate of the IRPM, and is also a regular attendee at ARMA and IRPM events throughout the country.

Watson Voted Industry ‘Employer of the Year’

Watson is delighted to announce that they have been judged winners at one of the most highly contested national industry awards. The News On The Block ‘Property Management Awards’ independently recognise the excellence and professionalism of companies and individuals within the residential property management industry.

Despite record numbers of nominations and entries, Watson were crowned outright winners in the category of ‘Employer of the Year’. As the first and only ‘employee owned’ residential managing agents in the UK, there is little doubt that Watson’s unique ownership structure and the staff engagement that this engenders gave them the edge over industry rivals.

Anthony Bennett & Chris Wiles of Watson were presented with the award at a spectacular event held at Wembley Stadium in front of over 700 people from the industry. Chris commented:

“We are delighted that Watson’s pioneering approach to company ownership and the superb work that the whole team undertakes, has been recognised in this way. As a company we have a rich heritage and many industry first’s under our belt, however this [employee ownership] is the one that we are most proud of.”

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Nick's BlogSpot #1

Firstly, welcome to my new blog! Not only is this a new blog, it is also the first time I have ever attempted to write something like this so I have no idea how it will go. You may be thinking that my main concern as I set out on this process would be having enough content to fill this blog on a monthly basis, however I have a habit of using 50 words where just 10 would do the job (as colleagues who regularly receive e-mails from me would no doubt testify), and it is likely that my main challenge will therefore be keeping these pieces to a concise and succinct article. With that in mind, I’ll draw an end to this first paragraph now before I find that I have used my whole word count on the introduction!

Moving on, next month sees the first anniversary since us at Watson took the step of becoming an employee-owned company, the first managing agent within the property management industry to take such a step, and I thought that it would therefore be a good idea to look back at the previous year to consider how our new ownership structure has impacted upon both colleagues and also our clients and customers.

There has always been a great atmosphere amongst the team at Watson, with this going back to our days in Wetherby where all of the team used to gather in the local pub each Friday after work come rain or shine, and our long and established history as a family run business will no doubt have contributed to this positive environment where everyone works together to ensure that the company achieves its goals. Such a positive atmosphere is not unique to us at Watson however, and there will be many other agents operating within the industry who can claim to benefit from such amongst their own workforce, however the challenge for us has been to maintain this and ensure that this is not lost as we have grown following our success over recent years. This is a challenge that we have been able to meet head on by having a Board of Directors who are committed to providing our staff with a working environment that allows them to thrive, whilst also empowering individuals to take an active part in the operation and success of the company. An example of this commitment may be found in our move from Wetherby back to Leeds in 2013, and the fact that when considering potential new office locations the Board made the working environment that each would provide a priority as part of its considerations. It is now over two years since we did make the move back to Leeds, and as someone who spends most of the week in the office is it clear to me that we are now reaping the benefit of the value attributed to ensuring such a positive working environment.

Fast-forward to December 2014, and this brings us to the start of our journey as an employee-owned company through the inception of The J H Watson Employee Ownership Trust. You may well be aware of other companies who are employee-owned, with perhaps the John Lewis Partnership being the most notable of them, and most of these companies have achieved their current status through the sales of shares to employees. At Watson we have done things a bit differently however, as like the John Lewis Partnership all shares are held in an employee trust, and this ensures the long-term success of the company for all of our staff by ensuring that no shares ever leave the company. This structure negates the possibility of a ‘fat-cat’ scenario where one or two individuals could acquire a significant shareholding before selling this off for a financial gain, and instead ensures that members of staff are rewarded for performing well and working together through the overall success of the company.

Since taking the step to becoming an employee-owned company we have sought to maximise the exciting opportunity that this has provided to us. For instance, in the last year Watson have become a member of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA), a national body which represents organisations which are either employee owned or in the transition to achieving employee ownership. We have also been to visit Gripple UK, a Sheffield based company who have been pioneers of employee ownership over recent years, with a view to learning how they have used their ownership structure to the benefit of their employees and also their customers. This exposure to established employee ownership has provided us with an insight into how we can make this opportunity work for ourselves, and when considered alongside the knowledge that we have of our team, our clients, and the industry that we operate in, we have been able to put some exciting events and processes in place which should benefit many of our stakeholders. The most prominent of these events are our Staff Forums which we now hold bi-monthly, and where all members of staff meet in small focus groups with a view to identifying any areas where the business may be able to make improvements. Suggestions received during this last twelve months have ranged from additional information being included on our website in order to assist our customers to the streamlining of the process for the handover of management from the previous agent to ourselves in order to ensure a smooth transition for clients and customers alike, and it has been fantastic to see the engagement of all members of staff during these forums since they were introduced.

We were delighted last week to learn that Watson have been shortlisted for the Employer of the Year Award in the annual News on the Block Property Management Awards, the most prestigious awards within the industry. As I have said within this blog, there has always been a great atmosphere and working environment at Watson and we believe that our shortlisting for this award is recognition of the value that every member of our team places on ensuring that this continues for a long time to come, however we are also very excited to be given the opportunity to showcase employee ownership working successfully within the property management industry and we hope that the awards judges will be receptive to what we are able to demonstrate. The awards ceremony is due to be held on 3rd December 2015 at Wembley Stadium when the winner will be announced, so for the meantime we shall keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best!

To end this blog I would like to share with you a question that was put to me at the end of a recent interview that I was conducting with a candidate for a new role at Watson, and also my reply to such. The question I was asked was ‘Why do you like working at Watson?’, and it was a question which stumped me for a couple of seconds. I knew that I enjoyed my job, but why did I enjoy it? The answer, after some short consideration, was quite simple – because it excites me, it gives me that buzz. I wake up each morning and I look forward to the day ahead, to the telephone conversations, to the e-mails, to working with my colleagues and bouncing thoughts and ideas off each other. When I left university and set out on my career I had one aim, not to be earning so much money by whatever age or to have been promoted however many times within however many years, instead it was simply to enjoy my job and be in a position where I wake up each morning and look forward to going into work. I have had jobs where this wasn’t the case and I therefore consider myself to be very lucky to be in the position that I am now in, but what is perhaps even more pleasing is that that when I look around the office and see the smiling faces of my colleagues I realise that I am not the only one.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this blog, I hope that you enjoyed it. If you have any comments or feedback regarding the content of the blog then I would love to hear from you, or even if you just want to get in contact with me then please feel free to drop me an e-mail at nwarren@watsonpm.co.uk.

Best wishes,

Nick

151116_Nick_BW_Low_Res.jpgNick Warren is an Associate Director at Watson and is responsible for our industry leading Credit Control department. He has a keen interest in some of the more technical elements of property management, as well as keeping up to date with the relevant case law and legislation which affects the industry. He often represents clients in matters before the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) as required, and is regularly commended for his performance in this arena. Nick is an Associate of the IRPM, and is also a regular attendee at ARMA and IRPM events throughout the country.

News On The Block Finalists

We are delighted to announce that Watson has been shortlisted for a second year running at the National Property Management Awards (PMA’s) organised by News On The Block (NOTB) magazine. This year we have been recognised for our unique status as the first and only employee owned managing agent in the UK and have therefore been nominated for ‘Employer of the Year’. We were asked to compile a short video by the award organisers that conveys what it’s like to work at Watson. We are delighted to share this and very much hope you enjoy watching our staff members’ thoughts:

Why Use An ARMA Managing Agent?

Choosing one of the UK's select ARMA-Q managing agents is the best choice for any development large or small.  Watch the Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA's) video below for an explanation of how an ARMA registered agent works to higher standards:

Watson Go Greener With Solar Power

For many years Watson has embraced new technology and the movement towards sustainable buildings – both through design and maintenance - and have undertaken many projects for clients involving green technology that have not only saved them thousands but have helped to reduce carbon emissions significantly.

As a prominent and well respected company within the property management industry, Watson believe in leading by example, and that’s why they have just completed an update of their head-office building including approximately 100 photovoltaic (“PV”) cells that generate enough power to supplement usage and to feed clean and green energy back into the grid at non-peak times.

Watson Director, Anthony Bennett commented:

“One of our aims is to become the most sustainable managing agent in the UK.We have led this field for many years now through sustainable and energy efficient property management projects and we are hoping that it may be possible for us to become very close to zero-carbon in our own operations following other projects we are currently investigating and working on.”

He went on to say:

“It is great to be in the position where we can implement energy saving projects for our clients with them having full knowledge that the technology is truly tried and tested by ourselves with first hand working knowledge.This is a great reassurance to any development considering a green or energy saving element and sets us apart from the many agents out there that do not have much experience of managing such equipment.”

Watson’s next green-head-office project is rumoured to be air source heat pumps to supplement or replace their current heating systems, alongside other community based sustainability projects.

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Nationally Recognised Property Management

Watson is delighted to have been shortlisted as one of a select few finalists in a fourth separate national industry award in the space of only 12 months. Watson was chosen as a finalist in the prestigious and highly contested category of ‘Property Management Company of the Year’ which encompasses not only block management but the management of individual properties let on Assured Shorthold Tenancies.

The organisers stated that the number of entrants this year is the largest in their history and therefore simply being shortlisted as a finalist should be considered a great achievement and a testament to those concerned. The full list of finalists and categories can be found by clicking HERE

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Watson Director Awarded Rare Fellowship

CW_sq1.jpgWe are delighted to announce that Watson Director, Chris Wiles, has been awarded one of the most highly respected accolades in the industry – Fellowship of the Institute of Residential Property Managers, or IRPM. Chris joins an elite few in the UK as (at the time of writing) he is one of only 78 Fellows in the industry specific institute that is the leading provider of recognised qualifications for British block management professionals, consisting of over 3,000 members.

Fellowships are rare because they are only awarded to individuals who have contributed to the property management industry in a meaningful and demonstrable way above and beyond their day-to-day employment. Over recent years Chris has assisted members of the public through local forums, delivered educational seminars, and now assists IRPM as a committee member, helping to raise standards in the industry through the promotion of professional qualifications for property managers.

IRPM_Member_Logo_v1_CMYK.jpgThe Watson team possess a wealth of knowledge and qualifications ranging from practical building maintenance and surveying to accountancy and property law. We are proud to employ some of the most knowledgeable and experienced professionals in the industry to deliver our award winning services and are delighted to congratulate Chris on this personal achievement that also captures the ethos and professionalism of everything that we do.

Watson Awarded Sunday Times & Times ‘Best Block Management’ Award 2015

Award1.jpgWatson has been awarded one of the most highly sought after ‘Block Management Agency of the Year’ awards at The Lettings Agency of the Year Awards 2015 in association with The Sunday Times and The Times Newspapers.

On Friday 12th June, over 550 leading agents from throughout the UK attended a glittering ceremony at The Lancaster London Hotel in London opposite Hyde Park, where the winners of one of the most highly regarded awards in the industry were revealed. The winners were presented with their awards by six-time world champion and marathon ace, Paula Radcliffe MBE, with renowned journalist, author and newsreader Penny Smith acting as compere.

The whole of the judging process was overseen by The Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, and David Cox, Managing Director of ARLA acted as Arbiter. Award winners were decided following a rigorous and thorough judging process by a panel of 20 industry experts who assessed initial entry submissions before conducting an extensive review of the entrants, which included over 150 hours of telephone interviews and independent mystery shopping exercises.

The judges’ report stated:

“This agency [Watson] offers its clients the benefits of an employee owned structure which is designed to ensure all customers receive a positive experience from the entire team. This approach has resulted in high levels of customer satisfaction and its internal procedures have also garnered praise from professional third party bodies. A dedicated customer services reception redirects all calls to the appropriate person so landlords and tenants know they only have to make one phone call to resolve issues or queries. Green energy solutions are high on the agenda and are being rolled out across all the managed blocks to reduce costs and improve the carbon footprint. Watson is proud of its rich 200-year heritage and the core founding principles are as important and relevant to them today as they were then.”

Now in its sixth year as a dedicated competition, these awards have become widely recognised as the most prestigious and difficult to win. With more entrants than ever before, over 5,000 offices were represented this year, but only the very best of the best were crowned as winners. Individuals were also recognised for their hard work and commitment to customer service in four different categories, and a new award was introduced; The Best Agency to Work For.

Watson, winners in the ‘Best Block Management’ category were delighted to receive the award. Chris Wiles, Watson Director, commented:

“On behalf of everyone at Watson, I am overjoyed that we have been selected as one of only a handful of Block Managers in the UK to win this prestigious accolade. For us, success in our job is all about customer satisfaction and this award cements our standing as one of the very best block managers in the UK in this regard.”

He went on to say

“Recognition through such a reputable household name as The Times newspaper is very humbling and rewarding. Last year Watson was voted the No.1 block manager in the UK by ARMA (the Association of Residential Managing Agents) through their Q-Award and now we have been rated amongst the best in the UK again. We are so pleased to be consistently recognised and highly rated by independent parties for our industry leading service standards.”

How Did Employee Ownership Happen - & How Do Watson's Staff Feel About It?

Here are some of the Watson teams' recollections of the day we became employee owned:

The self titled - A day in the life of a sleepyhead...

I have never been a “morning person”. Even when going on holiday, I still feel the need to linger in the warm cocoon of my bed.If an early start is unavoidable the only incentive to get me up and away is that I can always sleep on the plane/train/car.All this brings home how different my level of exhilaration was when one cold, dark December morning I was so excited that I awoke before the alarm – what’s more, I leapt, nay, bounced out of bed immediately – there were no self-remonstrations that day!

That very morning I was one of the first at the office, shocking many of my colleagues, all wondering “who is this pod person?” [apologies to Jack Finney].Exuberance abound, everyone knew I was not quite myself: I had a smile from ear to ear, not my usual zombified stare and each time I heard the same question “what’s occurring”, my spring wound tighter.Knowing I had to keep schtum was excruciating.

Trying to keep calm and concentrate of the matters of the day, there was plenty to keep me busy: to most, an ordinary Board Meeting but to the few, a special guest appearance from a solicitor who had an extraordinary task to execute – transfer 55% of our Chairman’s shares to the members of staff – we had become EMPLOYEE OWNED!!!!!!!!!!!! Finally, the tension lifted and my fellow board members could join in my elation, albeit with more introspectiveness than the chair jig I performed.At last I could show my pleasure in what was the most amazing experience of my life, sending into insignificance the momentous occasions of giving birth to my two children.

Once the meeting was over we all awaited John’s big announcement to everyone and again I had to do something to help me refrain from bursting with pride.Next best thing for me was being tasked with buying the champagne, and to be honest, it was about the only thing I could be trusted with: thank goodness my car had autopilot for the TESCO run!

Rushing back clutching several bottles of bubbly, still no announcement, how was I to contain my excitement? Answer emails, download the meeting minutes, run off MUS reports – nothing was working, all I could think about was the big event.Was John really on the phone all this time, or was it just my imagination?Time was ticking on and my head was about to burst, if John doesn’t put that phone down soon there will be no one to make the announcement to, it was nearly time for the mass exodus that is 5pm.Lots of frantic calls to Jean followed and yet he continued with his phone call.It came to that crucial moment when I had to stop everyone leaving – what bright idea would keep everyone here without letting on why?Inspiration left me, so I just stood at the bottom of the stairs waiting to herd everyone back – but what excuse could I make?All too soon, the sound of stampeding footsteps shocked me out of my musings and I steeled myself against the hoards – no time to think – arms akimbo, I shepherded them up the stairs, all fully togged for the bleak winter weather. Manically begging and pleading I managed to convince everyone to go back into the office and shed their winter woollies.There were a few disgruntled mutterings “what’s Dolar up to now!” but I knew that soon enough those frowns would be turned upside down.

Just when I felt my fervour could take it no longer, John emerged from his office with a calm serenity that had eluded me all day: I held my breath and at last everyone knew what had transpired.Now, the whole world could know and I for one was happy to shout it from the rooftops.Cameras flashed, corks popped, glasses filled and we all toasted to John, such a small token of appreciation for what was an immense occasion!

Sleepyhead certainly slept well that night!

Dolores Charelsworth

A memento of a momentous day...

I couldn’t resist keeping a memento from the day we became Employee Owned, a momentous day which I feel so proud to be a part of. The bottle of champagne this cork once bestowed was never going to last as long as the cork!!!!

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Having worked at Watson for over 15 years I have never seen this level of enthusiasm in the staff as I see now. We have a real “we are in this together mentality” which will help us drive the company forward for the benefit of the Employee Trust as well as our clients. Thank you John for your generosity and the belief you have shown in all of us.

Anthony Bennett

And here are three shorter thought on what Employee Ownership means to us now:

What’s happened? I’m part owner of the company? WOW!...AND you voted for me to be on the EOT Board? One of the most humbling experiences of my life. John’s generosity overwhelmed me. Thank you.

Fiona Shires

Ever since becoming part of an EO business, I feel super awesome!

Jack Darracott

Changing to employee owned business has changed my perception of my role. I now see myself as part of the company and its success directly affects me. Because of this my focus is now more towards improving our service to our clients so that we generate more business.

Ian Omant

Property Industry Comments on Election

RICS and other property stakeholders have responded to the General Election result and its implications for the property sector.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors congratulated the Prime Minister, David Cameron, on his return to office and said that it “looked forward to engaging with his new administration.” but “a solution to Britain’s long-term supply-side housing crisis is now a matter of national emergency" urging the new government to make solving this crisis a priority.

The British Property Federation say: “We worked successfully with the Conservatives as part of the Coalition and look forward to continuing that relationship to tackle the key issues impacting on our sector.  Our industry has the potential to significantly increase the amount of housing in the UK, regenerate our towns and cities, and contribute significantly to the economy if it is provided with the right legislative framework.  We would like to see the government prioritise a coherent plan to deliver increased housing supply; to follow through on the commitment to fundamentally review business rates, and take action to put in place the right infrastructure – including real estate – that will allow our country to thrive."  However "The prospect of an EU Referendum will inject uncertainty into the equation, and it is important to have clarity about its parameters and timetable as soon as possible."

BPF also state that: The mansion tax is “now an ex-policy” and the private rented sector will be pleased to see that proposed caps on rental increases and extensions to the minimum duration of tenancies will not go ahead.  However “The Conservatives have the least ambitious housing targets of any major party” and the Right to Buy proposals (which will allow tenants to buy their housing association homes at a discount) will further reduce the stock of affordable homes.

The National Housing Federation has pledged its support for the new Government whilst pushing a similar message that it is against extending the Right to Buy to housing association tenants  as a "waste of resources that could build the homes that people in every part of the UK desperately need.”

Positively, 'Estate Agent Today' reported significant increases in the share prices of some major estate agency firms on election day and predicted that deferred demand from the pre-election period will start to flow back into the market.

With the election of the new Government, there may also be movement on proposals to introduce mandatory Security Industry Authority licensing of businesses providing certain security services, including concierge services, key-holding and CCTV. This is expected to come into force as soon as possible during the new Parliamentary session, which starts later this month.

A Historic Day For Watson

Leeds based residential property managers, Watson, have this week become the very first company in the sector to become owned by its’ staff through an employee trust, akin to companies such as John Lewis and Waitrose.

Watson can trace over 200 years heritage in property, and in an extraordinarily generous move, sole owner and Chairman, John Watson, has gifted the firm to the trust in order to ensure the future security of this successful company and its’ employees, following his planned retirement over coming years.

Every staff member is now a partner in the business and is therefore uniquely integrated with the firm and motivated to deliver the very best service possible, sharing in the success of the company on an equitable basis.

John Watson commented:

“I am incredibly proud to see several centuries of my family’s hard work culminate in such an exciting move for the future that sets Watson firmly apart from our competitors.We have a wonderful team in place that is already driving the company forward from strength to strength, and I am delighted to see the future of the Watson name secure for centuries to come.”

Following independent research, the Employee Ownership Association, or EOA, reports that employee owned firms consistently outperform their traditionally owned counterparts throughout the UK and globally, with the majority showing strong growth even throughout economic downturn.

Iain Hasdell, Chief Executive of the EOA said:

"Today Watson join a thriving sector within the economy that now contributes over £30bn GDP to the UK annually, more than the aerospace sector. Watson are part of a growing network of employee owned businesses based in Yorkshire, which is rapidly becoming a UK centre for employee ownership. Research has proven that employee owned businesses achieve higher productivity and greater levels of innovation. They are also more resilient to economic turbulence and they have more engaged, more fulfilled and less stressed workforces."

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National Award Finalists

Earlier in the year, Watson were absolutely delighted to report that ARMA had selected us from their 300+ member-agents as most deserving of their annual award. This accolade - the ARMA Q award - recognised one company as having made the greatest difference to their leaseholders through the delivery of customer service excellence.

We are now equally delighted to announce that Watson have been shortlisted as one of a select few finalists in the highly contested category of Customer Service at this year’s annual News On The Block Property Management Awards.

Following independent judging and a public vote, the winners will be announced on the evening of the 4th December at an industry charity fundraising event and award ceremony held at The Troxy theatre, London.

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Announcing ARMA Q Winner 2014

The Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA) has awarded Watson the prestigious ARMA-Q Award 2014 for excellence in residential property management.

In its’ third year, this annual award recognises only the very best in the industry and Watson are delighted to have been selected as industry leaders from a field of over 300 prominent national managing agents.

ARMA said “Watson Property Management earned the national award for going the extra mile in helping leaseholders in a Leeds block of flats deal with a myriad of problems including serious water ingress, fire, anti-social behaviour and vandalism.”

Michelle Banks, ARMA’s CEO said: “The resourcefulness and commitment that Watson Property Management demonstrates in supporting the needs of those living in the block makes them very worthy winners of ARMA-Q 2014. They epitomise the spirit of ARMA-Q, which promotes the highest possible standard of professionalism in residential leasehold management.”

Ian Omant and Chris Wiles of Watson were presented with the award trophy by ARMA’s Chairman Martin Perry in front of more than 500 delegates at the ARMA annual conference held in Westminster.

Chris said “As one of only three winners in the history of the ARMA-Q award, Watson is absolutely delighted and honoured to have been recognised for our achievements through such a highly sought after accolade.”

He went on to say “It is a great testimony to each and every one of our outstanding members of staff who consistently provide the highest possible levels of service, and a wonderful way for us to demonstrate that Watson operate to the highest standards within the industry.”

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Block Management

No longer is the location of a good school the highest priority when choosing a property to live in, as times are changing broadband speed and accessibility seem to be just as important. As the majority of the world’s population now live in city centres and with the high number of job opportunities, entertainment at your feet and many universities situated there it will come as no surprise that our city centre portfolio is ever increasing.

In the past few months alone Watson has taken on eight new instructions, five of which are located within city centres. These beautifully presented properties are an asset to our growing portfolio and with our passion and dedication to block management we are proud to welcome them on board. At Watson we are not only proud to be chosen, we are proud to be setting the trends in property management.

Whilst we are completely committed to providing the finest service to our clients we would welcome the opportunity to extend this commitment to you.

RICS Commend Watson

We recently had a visit from the RICS for one of their regular audits. Watson welcome these as an opportunity to ensure we are still, after so many years, adhering to the RICS standards and consequently delivering fully compliant services to all our thousands of customers. We are firm believers in regulating the property management industry to ensure ALL leaseholders receive the levels of service and knowledge they deserve from professional agents, but in the absence of legislation, instead we do what we can against so many of the inexperienced “have-a-go” companies out there by committing ourselves to RICS as well as to the new ARMA-Q standards for managers.

The RICS auditor was extremely happy with our processes and controls, commenting we actually went over and above what we needed to do, and we received their top grade. Excellent news that we are very proud of and testimony to much of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes for our customers and clients.

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Watson Blog Latest

Nick's BlogSpot #4 - Recovery of Legal Costs:

Welcome to my latest blog – this month I am taking a look at two recent cases from the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) with regard to the recoverability of legal costs as part of a service charge, and considering how these may impact upon a party’s ability to recover debt recovery costs through such means.  Before looking at these two cases... Click here to read more

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J H Watson Property Management Ltd Trading as Watson Property Management. Registered in England & Wales No. 1883919.